Let's Use Some Birthy Words

Each facet of human industry seems to have its own vernacular.

Birth is no different.

Problems with words involved in birth are: first, not a lot of people know them, second, many people misunderstand them or misassociate them and finally, at some point, almost everyone needs to be able to use them (whether for ourselves or in support or understanding of a loved one).

In today’s hyper-sexualized American culture, it feels like everything has a double entendre, even if it’s not wanted. This has affected some of the words below, too.

So let’s talk about ten birth-related words and what they really mean. If you need to, say these words out loud, as many times as it takes to feel comfortable.

If you are expecting a baby or the partner of someone who is, I suggest you get your big kid pants on and learn what these words really mean and how to use them.

From top to bottom:

  1. Moan (n) A long, low sound, also called vocal breathing, used to meter one’s breath, create rhythm, expend energy, and soothe the mind. Often women enter a cadence of moaning or vocal breathing to help settle into a routine to deal with the rise and fall of contractions. An excellent,  almost hypnotic coping method. Yes, women and men often moan during sex. You’re just going to have to square with that. Women moan getting the baby in there, and they moan getting the baby out. Moan moan moan. Get used to it.
  2. Breast (n) an organ, comprised mostly of mammary (milk-producing) tissue and fat. This organ changes size and composition during pregnancy to produce milk for the growing baby. Breasts are great, but not because Victoria’s Secret says so. They’re great because they grow tiny humans.
  3. Nipple (n) Part of both normal male and female human anatomy. In females, the nipple is where a collection of lactiferous ducts meet to deliver milk from the mammary glands to a baby. The nipple serves many purposes, kind of like, I don’t know, every other part of the body. Nipple stimulation is one of the most reliable methods for bringing on contractions during labor, by the way.
  4. Cervix (n) the lowest part of the uterus. When preparing for delivery of a baby, the cervix moves anterior (close to the mother’s front), effaces, and dilates (see 5 & 6) in order to let the baby out of the uterus.
  5. Efface (v) to thin. In reference to the cervix, when a baby gets ready to be born, his or her head pushes down on the cervix, causing it to thin and open. A normal cervix is about 3.5 cm (1.5 inches) long. When a cervix is 50% effaced, it’s about 1.75 cm (.75 inches) long. The cervix must efface completely (100%) for the baby to be able to come out.
  6. Dilate (v) to open. The cervix must also dilate, or open, to let the baby out. The cervix is considered “complete” or fully dilated at 10 centimeters. Around that point, the mother usually feels a very strong urge to bear down (see #8) and can safely do so without causing any harm to the cervix.
  7. Vagina (n) A female reproductive organ. Try saying, “nose,” and now, “pancreas,” and, “ankle.” Vagina, like these other words, is a body part with a specific set of functions. During the majority of births, this is where the baby comes out. This body part is capable of incredible amounts of expansion and contraction, much like the stomach.
  8. Bear down (v) To exercise Valsalva’s maneuver by forcibly trying to exhale without releasing air from the mouth or nose. This increases pressure on the abdomen and internal organs like the uterus to help expel the baby. It is the same force created to make a bowel movement, so everyone’s done it.
  9. Perineum (n) the skin between the vagina and the anus. This skin undergoes a lot of stress during childbirth. When you hear about an episiotomy, it is the perineum that the provider is thinking about cutting. Or, when someone has a tear and needs stitches, it is usually the perineum that has been damaged and requires a repair. During birth, mineral oil, warm compresses, good labor positions, spontaneous pushing (pushing directed by the mother rather than a healthcare provider) or laboring in water can help relieve stress on the perineum and avoid tearing.
  10. Hemorrhoid (n) a swollen vein in the region of the rectum or anus. This can be caused by many things, including: the increased weight of the uterus on the veins of the pelvis during pregnancy, excessive bearing down during bowel movements, a diet insufficient in fiber, or childbirth. About half of all adults experience hemorrhoids at some point in their life. They are no fun, but they are very common and very treatable.

This is a pretty short list, but it’s a good place to start. So study up, ask questions, and get in the know.

Here are some great words to know for families undergoing fertility treatments, courtesy of Overlake Reproductive Medicine.